My colleagues and I returned to the State Capitol for the 5th week of the 2020 legislative session on Monday, February 10th. Last week, we voted on a legislative calendar to postpone meeting on the House floor in order to devote additional time to the state budgeting process, and this week, the House Appropriations subcommittees held several meetings to work to finalize the Amended Fiscal Year 2020 (AFY 2020) and Fiscal Year 2021 (FY 2021) budgets. Creating the state budget is often an arduous process. This was especially true for the 5th week of session as we devoted most of our time to:
- Gathering more information on possible budget adjustments for the current and upcoming fiscal years.
- Discussing budgetary priorities.
Governor Brian Kemp previously instructed our state agencies to reduce spending by four percent in AFY 2020 and six percent in FY 2021, saving taxpayers millions of dollars on inefficient operational costs. Governor Kemp’s recommended budget would reduce operational spending by $216 million in the AFY 2020 budget and an additional $341 million in the FY 2021 budget. Even with these reductions, the FY 2021 budget is still set at several hundred million dollars above the current fiscal year’s budget. We heard from several state agencies throughout our subcommittee meetings, which helped us gain a better understanding of the proposed budget and how state funds may be allocated for services statewide.
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Human Resources has worked to secure additional state funding to improve mental health services and bolster programs that provide treatment for citizens with substance abuse issues in Georgia over the last ten years, and this week, we learned more about budget adjustments in these areas:
- The governor’s proposal for the AFY 2020 budget would amend the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities’ budget to save $34.3 million, and general funds for the agency would be reduced by more than $45.9 million in the FY 2021 budget.
- These reductions include more than $4.9 million in the AFY 2020 budget that the General Assembly allocated last year for an additional 144 residential treatment beds for six facilities across the state that treat people with addictive diseases.
- Also, adult mental health services would see a reduction of nearly $3.5 million in AFY 2020 and more than $7.4 million in FY 2021 under the governor’s proposal.
- Likewise, child and adolescent mental health services would be reduced by almost $12.8 million this fiscal year and approximately $14.1 million in the upcoming fiscal year.
This week, my colleagues and I also examined areas of Gov. Kemp’s budget that includes services that our rural communities often rely on. Each of Georgia’s 159 counties has its own local health department, which is often the closest, if not the only location where citizens in rural communities can receive health care services. These health departments provide preventative care, offer innovative telehealth services for residents to receive care remotely via video conference and conduct necessary environmental health inspections of restaurants and hotels.
- Under Gov. Kemp’s proposal, the Department of Public Health would see a reduction of approximately $6.4 million in the AFY 2020 budget that would affect grant funds for county health departments.
- There would be an additional reduction of more than $9.2 million in funding for these county health departments in the FY 2021 budget.
- The Department of Community Health’s funding would be reduced by $630,000 in both the AFY 2020 and the FY 2021 budgets. These reductions would affect programs that attract and retain doctors in rural Georgia, as well as loan repayment awards for health care providers.
- There is also a proposed reduction of $463,000 in one-time funds for the state’s Rural Health Innovation Center, which the General Assembly previously appropriated to confront the health care challenges and disparities in rural Georgia.
Over the last several years, the House has led the charge in crafting legislative solutions that help rural communities. Improving the quality of life and ensuring access to basic health care services for rural Georgians continues to be a priority in the House.
This week, we also spent time examining proposed budget adjustments for agricultural education and research programs that aid Georgia’s farmers and agricultural industry in a variety of ways. In prior budgets, the General Assembly appropriated additional funding for programs like the University System of Georgia’s Agricultural Experiment Stations (AES) and Cooperative Extension Services (CES).
We currently have three AES locations throughout the state that conduct ground-breaking research on:
- Environmental factors
- Food safety
The CES program, which has local extension offices across the state, has provided Georgia farmers with free, reliable and unbiased research-based programs, publications, workshops and other resources for more than a century. We learned that, under Gov. Kemp’s AFY 2020 budget proposal, the AES and CES programs would be reduced by approximately $6.2 million, and the programs would see a reduction of more than $7.6 million in the FY 2021 budget. This would reduce funding for:
- Vacant positions
- Contractual services
- Operating expenses
- Maintenance costs
Agriculture is the number one industry in the state, and my colleagues and I will remain committed to maintaining this title as we consider funding for these programs.
We discussed proposed funding for the state’s crime labs that handle and process sexual assault evidence. In 2016, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 304, or the “Compassionate Care for Victims of Sexual Assault Act,” to address rape kit backlog at the time and overhaul the way our state handles and processes these evidence kits.
- In 2018, the House announced that a backlog of 3,005 sexual assault kits had been tested, and 321 of these kits resulted in DNA matches that identified criminals.
- This week, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and informed us that the agency is experiencing another backlog.
- GBI receives approximately 200 kits per month but are only able to test an average of 106 kits each month with the current number of scientists that are employed.
- If GBI continues to process these rape kits at their current rate, there could be more than 2,000 backlogged kits by the end of 2020.
Gov. Kemp’s budget proposal for AFY 2020 reduces GBI funds by $1.6 million for unfilled scientist positions. GBI director Vic Reynolds told the subcommittee this week that, despite the cost saving measures, he will work to make sure that the backlog does not reach the same levels that we experienced in 2016.
As we worked on the state budget this week, my colleagues and I received word that the federal government is taking measures to support the growth and expansion of the Savannah harbor and Port of Savannah, which is one of the busiest ports in the country and an economic driver in our state. President Donald Trump announced that his budget proposal includes $93.6 million in funds for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, which will deepen Savannah’s harbor to allow for larger vessels. This important project has a total projected cost of $1 billion, and these federal funds will help the project stay on track to finish by 2022.
Also, the Georgia Ports Authority announced that the Port of Savannah has been awarded $34.6 million through the Port Infrastructure Development Grant by the U.S. Department of Transportation to modernize the port’s loading docks. The Port of Savannah plays a vital role in global commerce, and these investments will provide a great opportunity for the port to remain a leader in imports and exports worldwide.
By the end of the fifth week, the House Appropriations Committee began voting on portions of the AFY 2020 budget from the subcommittees on:
- Economic development.
Next week, the House Appropriations Committee is expected to take up the remaining portions of the amended budget from the other appropriations subcommittees and consider the entire AFY 2020 budget bill as a whole. In the meantime, we will also keep working to finalize the FY 2021 budget bill. While the state budget bills continue to make their way through the legislative process, I welcome you to reach out to me with any questions or concerns you have regarding the state’s budgeting process or any budget recommendations. You are free to come visit me at my Capitol office. You can also call me at 404.656.0152 or email me at email@example.com. Remember to stay up to date on my Facebook Page for news during the 2020 Legislative Session.
Thank you for allowing me the honor to serve as your state representative, and God bless you.